An excerpt from The Gift of Influence, Tommy’s newest release now available wherever you buy books!
Imagine this scene: Many years from now, after you pass away surrounded by your loved ones, you slip into the hazy twilight between life and death. You’re not in heaven yet, but on the sideline of a massive stadium. For me, it’s Empower Field at Mile High in Colorado, home of the Denver Broncos. For you, maybe it’s Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin; MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey; Notre Dame Stadium in Indiana; Beijing’s National Stadium; or London’s Wembley Stadium. The venue is at max capacity: eighty thousand people. But those people are not there to watch a sporting event. They are all there to say goodbye to you.
The crowd murmurs and rises to its feet as you approach midfield. Many of the faces are those of people you know: friends, family, neighbors, co-workers. But the rest you only dimly recognize: former clients and employees, friends of friends, classmates, your electrician, your daughter’s basketball coach, the mailperson. These are the transactional relationships in your life that you rarely think about. The people who don’t remember your name but remember how you treated them. Will these eighty thousand people be stomping, clapping, and chanting your name to thank you for the positive influence you’ve had on their lives? Or will they be silent? Even worse, will the crowd boo and curse your name?
Here’s an even more important question: If you knew, right now, that every person you’d ever influenced would be waiting for you in a stadium at the end of your life, how would it affect you today? Would you lead and love differently? Would you treat people a little differently? Maybe a lot differently?
A few years ago, my nonprofit youth program, the National Leadership Academy, hosted our annual Book- n- Benefit fund-raiser. We always feature a keynote speech by a bestselling author, and that year we’d invited my friend Jon Gordon, author of The Energy Bus, The Power of Positive Leadership, and other bestselling books. I love this man, and I’m among the millions who read his books religiously. Jon is a dynamite speaker, and like the rest of the audience that day, I was hanging on his every word.
At the end of his speech, Jon said something that moved me deeply: “I heard about a recent study showing that the average person will influence eighty thousand people in their lives, positively or negatively.”
I felt everything go quiet as the words sank in. We influence eighty thousand people in our lives. I started doing the math in my head. If you divide eighty thousand by the average life expectancy— seventy-eight years— you get 1,025 people impacted per year, or 2.8 daily. Every single day, two or three people are filtering into your stadium and preparing to cheer you on, boo you off the field, or sit there trying to figure out who you are. You can choose to be a good influence, or you can choose to be a bad one. It’s that simple. Will your stadium be filled with eighty thousand cheers, or jeers? The choice is yours. The eighty thousand people in your stadium won’t remember how you managed or led them. They won’t remember what products you sold or the services you provided. They will simply remember your actions and words that changed their lives— your legacy of influence.
In its most basic sense, influence means having a lasting effect on the character or behavior of another person. Put another way, the people with the loudest stadiums, those thumping arenas where even the folks in the nosebleed seats are stomping their feet and screaming, are the very best influencers. I don’t blame you if that word makes you cringe. Go ahead and google the word “influencer” and see what comes up. The top hits are sites like “Influencer marketing,” “The biggest influencers on TikTok,” and “How to make money being a social media influencer.” The word wasn’t even added to the dictionary until 2019: “A person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media.”
In other words, being an influencer is all about making money by getting other people to buy stuff. Yeah, it’s not exactly the most inspiring message in the world. Maybe if you’re one of the Kardashians you will have a stadium full of folks who bought products because of your Instagram posts. But for the rest of us, being an influencer means something much more personal.
One of the greatest influencers I know is my wife, Jill. When I’m in her stadium one day cheering furiously, I’m not going to be thinking about how she influenced me to sign up for the Marriott Vacation Club. I’ll be thinking about how she saved my life with her fifty letters. Truth is, “influence” has become a negative word. It’s associated with manipulating people, with getting them to do something that benefits you. While it’s easy to blame Kylie Jenner, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and other social media stars who are paid millions of dollars to post about tequila, the word “influence” was debased long before Instagram was invented.
The quintessential book about influence is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Since it was published in 1936, the book has sold more than thirty million copies and is ranked number 19 on Time magazine’s list of the one hundred most influential books. I’ve talked a lot about how Dale Carnegie changed my life, how his book got me to send handwritten notes, ask meaningful questions, avoid unnecessary conflict, and connect with people. I cherished How to Win Friends and Influence People and still do, but as I matured, I started reading it more closely. For instance, here are some of the chapter titles: “Increase Your Popularity,” “Help You to Win People to Your Way of Thinking,” “Enable You to Win New Clients, New Customers,” and “Increase Your Earning Power.” Carnegie even teaches us how to “let the other person feel like the idea is his or hers.” Do you see a pattern?
It’s all about you.
Do you think the eighty thousand people in your stadium will remember how you successfully won them over to your way of thinking? Probably not. They’ll be cheering because you helped them become better parents, spouses, siblings, managers, and leaders. They’ll remember how you inspired them to become better human beings. They’ll remember the times when you loved and served them. They will be cheering because you authentically invested in them. It took me half a lifetime to understand that it’s not what you can get out of those eighty thousand people— it’s what you give to those eighty thousand people.
In my first book, It’s Not Just Who You Know, I discuss the importance of building genuine and lasting relationships. I share how investing unselfishly in the lives of others is the most important thing we can do for ourselves, our organizations, our communities, and our world. In my second book, The Heart-Led Leader, I discuss how authentic leaders live and lead from the heart, and how they serve others before themselves. But in the years since, I’ve struggled with a few burning questions: What specific skills do leaders need in order to have a life-changing impact? What habits do they practice daily? What decisions do we subconsciously make day in and day out that have an outsize impact on others? Finally, and most important, what is a leader’s greatest legacy?
The answer to that last question, as you probably guessed, is influence. Now, it’s easy to define bad influence. You’ve probably had a boss or two who tried to influence you through dominance and manipulation. These people rely on fear and intimidation to get what they want. On the other hand, you may have had that boss who always recognized your efforts, never threw you under the bus, and invested in your career. In school, maybe there was a teacher who gave you a second chance after a bad grade, or who always made learning fun. Or a friend who always showed up for you during your toughest moments.
Some influencers may be CEOs, coaches, and presidents, but most lead quieter lives. They build authentic relationships and give without expecting anything in return. They constantly ask themselves, “How can I be of service today?” I’ve had the good fortune of meeting thousands of influencers in my life, the vast majority of whom you’ve never heard of. I’ve known influencers of many races, genders, and sexual orientations. They come from different countries. Some vote Democratic and some vote Republican. They live in the heartland and in big cities. They have almost nothing in common except four core traits: the ability to Lift, Embrace, Act, and Devote themselves to others— in other words, to LEAD.
Over the next four chapters, I’m going to tell you four stories about four exceptional people who embody those qualities: a junior high school math teacher, a nine-year-old hockey player, a gang leader, and a Catholic nun. I can’t think of four people who are less alike, except in their ability to lead and inspire others through the power of positive influence. After that, we’ll dig further into what it means to LEAD others. This means getting at the heart of influence itself: interest, investment, and intent, or what I call “the three i’s of influence.”
Here’s my promise to you: If you commit to living a life of positive influence, you will never look at your personal and professional relationships the same way again. If you commit to building a culture of influence in your teams and within your organizations, you will witness unprecedented results and success. You will end every day knowing you’ve changed someone’s life for the better. And as I found out in the fifty days before my fiftieth birthday, when you are down for the count, when life has dealt you lemons, the very same people you’ve influenced along the way will lift you up and lead you home.
As I’ve come to learn, leadership is not about influence. Leadership is influence. The eighty thousand people you’ll meet throughout your lifetime will be either better or worse because of the positive or negative influence you’ve had on them. The choice is yours. Read on— we are going on a journey to begin filling your stadium, one changed life at a time.